Speaking the Truth in Love—or mustering only mumbles?

By Michael W. Salemink

Date: April 7, 2016

Category: Sharing the Message of Lutherans For Life, Abortion and the Church, Worldview and Culture, Christian Responsibility


Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We shout this truth and hope together. At least we shout it together in worship. At least our hearts shout it even if our mouths don’t so much. At least our faith shouts it when our hearts don’t feel it and our minds forget it. Outside of our churches, on the other hand, we often muster only mumbles. Any quick visit to social networking websites or even a casual viewing of evening news confirms our culture has either lost or gotten lazy about the ability to speak truth in love. University protests, internet comments, controversial laws, presidential campaigns, and common conversations clearly display we don’t know how to disagree without disrespect anymore.

We’ve learned well the world’s lesson: “Given the choice between speaking the truth and being kind, choose kind.” Relationships matter more than righteousness, don’t they? Remember the words of the Prophet Thumper in the book of Disney, chapter Bambi: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” But Christian Scripture suspects a false dichotomy. Do love and truth in fact operate in tension? Should one really trump the other? Can’t we speak truth and show love at the same time? A certain apostle advises, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). And another apostle exhorts, “[L]et us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

So love and truth, even uncomfortable truth, do not exist in opposition but in concert. The one does not diminish but magnifies and completes the other. Love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Godly love certainly “explain[s] everything in the kindest way” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Eighth Commandment) but never uses “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15) as an excuse to allow or offer false testimony. Love does (and says) what is best, not just whatever is easiest, until the beloved gets better instead of merely feeling better.

Of course, as Christians, we cannot help but speak (Acts 4:20). The Lord’s people speak the truth, and speak the truth in love, and speak the truth in love about life. Christ’s disciples speak the truth in love about life amid this culture of death. “We also believe and therefore speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13 KJV). With the prophet Jeremiah we acknowledge, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). And with St. Paul we affirm, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Yet even in this most important endeavor we do not despair. We take comfort from the Son of God’s own solemn promise: “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:15 NIV), for “it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19 NIV). So when we speak, we do it as servants: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NIV). We enter conversation standing beside and not staring down. We claim no authority of our own over anybody, and we certainly boast no superiority to them, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23).

We recognize right away our own sinful motives that might adulterate our interactions. We repent of desiring to be someone’s lord or trying to be the savior. Yet we also reject the temptation to stay ignorant and indifferent toward our neighbors’ situations so as to spare ourselves emotional turmoil. Our truth-telling and loving must meet their needs and not our own cravings for comfort, control, accomplishment, or equilibrium. We realize that, whether she knows it or not, or he likes it or not, even an ideological opponent—and especially a Christian brother or sister—comes to us as beloved children of God for whom Christ died, rose, reigns, and returns. We speak the truth in love not to save face or to save ourselves trouble or even ultimately to save a relationship but to save a life from sin’s death and a soul from Satan’s hell.

For this reason, only the whole truth will do. We advertise and emphasize God as not only against sin and against death but also for life and for you, so absolutely for you that He takes you as you are and does not leave you there. Forsaking simple satisfactions and quick escapes for faith in the Savior’s ways finds gracious forgiveness, unconditional acceptance, and abundant everlasting life with Father-Son-and-Spirit’s household. When oncoming traffic approaches unsuspecting toddlers, we holler Law, even if it startles and irritates them, but only so that we may also whisk them into Gospel relief and refuge.

We not only proclaim the kingdom, we perform it. Our God always incarnates His Gospel like this. He always brings it in three dimensions. Our faith and salvation rests and rises in the Word become flesh. He who speaks to us also speaks with and through us. Love proves truth persuasive. Hearts trust truth most from those who provide groceries, clothes, comfort, home, and hope to meet needs, even when these needs appear only tangential to spiritual matters. Speaking the truth in love never just executes a task but establishes a relationship, one of patience and persistence—now tilling, now fertilizing, now planting, now pruning, now watering, now weeding, now shading, now waiting. Love without truth leaves only empty sentimentality, and truth without love just makes noise. Love never replaces truth but always reinforces it, embracing body and being as well as mind.

How we speak the truth in love affects as much as what truth we speak in love. We speak confidently but compassionately, cheerfully and sincerely, invitingly, not imposingly. We converse amicably and articulately. We interact winsomely, willing also to admit limits and investigate together. This offers us opportunity to stay educated and aware. We listen to the Word to know what to say, and we listen to the world to know what to say it about. Jesus never abandons us to speak the truth in love alone. He surrounds us with the communion of saints as our models and solidarity.

Please keep praying for people in need to hear and receive the Gospel message. And we invite and encourage you to continue preparing yourselves alongside us for every opportunity, great or little, that our Lord gives us to speak the truth in love.

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